Road to Canton: Harrison Smith

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Harrison Smith
CHICAGO, IL - NOVEMBER 18: Minnesota Vikings free safety Harrison Smith (22) battles in action during a NFL game between the Chicago Bears and the Minnesota Vikings on November 18, 2018 at Soldier Field, in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The Minnesota Vikings have experienced a lot of ups and downs over the past decade or so. However, there have been a number of consistently dominant players to rock the purple and gold. One of the most constant forces in the NFL lately has been Harrison Smith. On the heels of the 2019 Pro Football Hall of Fame announcement, this is Smith’s case for the Hall of Fame.

Since entering the league in 2012, Smith has wreaked havoc on opposing offenses. Although he is listed as a safety, Smith plays all over the defense. Safeties have a generally difficult time making it to the Hall of Fame without being household names. Somehow, Smith is not a household name despite being arguably the best safety in the NFL over the past five seasons.

The Numbers Don’t Lie

Smith has played in 99 career games across seven seasons. His sophomore season was shortened due to an injury, but he has been relatively healthy outside of that season. Of his six full seasons, Smith has been named a Pro Bowler in four, a first-team All-Pro once, and a second-team All-Pro once. His All-Pro appearances came in each of the last two seasons. His four Pro Bowl appearances have been consecutive between 2015 and 2018.

Smith’s versatility on defense has opened the door for him to make plays wherever he wants. He is currently one of just six NFL players to record 20 interceptions, four pick-sixes, 12 sacks, and 30 tackles for loss in his career. What stands out about this most of all is that he’s done it in much fewer games. The next fewest games on that list is owned by Donnie Edwards at 197 career games, 98 more than Smith. He has repeatedly shown that he can dominate at any level. His four career interception returns for a touchdown are good for the Vikings franchise record.

With a few more solid years, Smith will arguably be one of the best safeties to ever play in the NFL, simply based on stats.

Hall of Fame Safeties

There are currently just 24 safeties in the Hall of Fame, several of which played multiple positions and/or coached. To be fair, there are only eight safeties enshrined in Canton from the modern era (1980-present). Additionally, a handful of the remaining eight were cornerbacks for the majority of their careers before converting to safety near the end. That leaves four safeties in the modern era: Ed Reed, Ronnie Lott, Brian Dawkins, and Kenny Easley.

Aside from Easley, whose tackling numbers were not recorded, tackling numbers among Hall of Fame safeties vary. Smith will likely catch up and have the tackles that accompany the NFL’s all-time greats. He already has 566 combined tackles, which puts him third among “modern” safeties. His 12 sacks already place him second behind Dawkins. Reed leads all of the modern safeties with seven defensive touchdowns. Smith could potentially match that number by the time he hangs ‘em up.

Areas for Concern

As was already mentioned, there will be obstacles for Smith to overcome. Clearly, safeties aren’t given the same respect as other positions. The lack of total safeties in Canton currently makes it difficult to argue for a talented player like Smith. He is also pretty far behind in terms of interceptions The fewest number of interceptions by a safety in the Hall is nine by Tony Dungy, then 23 by Bill Dudley. Every other safety tallied at least 32 interceptions on his way to Canton. So while Harrison Smith influences the game from all angles and levels, he needs to show up on the stat sheet more to earn his bust.

There are a ton of talented young safeties in the NFL right now. Smith has to continue to prove that he belongs at the top of the food chain and wreck game plans as he always has. A few more quality seasons and he should cement his name in Canton as an NFL great.

Verdict: Harrison Smith is a Hall of Famer

The average football fan may not know who Harrison Smith is, but those who study the game recognize that he is an incredible talent on the defense. His versatility has helped the Vikings win plenty of games over his career, and his impact cannot be understated. There will be a large contingent of NFL players and media pushing for Smith to etch his name in history at some point down the line.

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